Researchers at Tufts University are investigating the relationship between stress and periodontal disease, according to a review published in the Journal of Biological Regulators & Homeostatic Agents last fall. Basically dental professionals concur that when people don’t practice proper oral hygiene, bacteria build up in the oral cavity and take over. The body produces immune cells to protect against bacteria, but when the body is under stress, this delicate balance is thrown off. Inflammation tends to increase due to stress, allowing bacteria to thrive and cause gingivitis, a precursor to periodontal disease.
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When the body is under stress, it produces more of the hormone cortisol, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. When cortisol is produced peripherally in the gums, it stimulates mast cells to produce more proteins, simultaneously increasing inflammation and the progression of periodontal disease.
Dr. Scott Froum, co-editor of Surgical-Restorative Resource and contributing editor for DentistryIQ, says, “This investigation furthers the developing thought that the oral-systemic link is extremely important in medicine as well as dentistry. Inflammation albeit caused by stress or any other pathosis causes damage to bodily systems. The hypothesis that the stress-induced release of cortisol causing a hyper-excited state of mast cells is very plausible and should definitely be further investigated. In my own practice, patients who have had episodes of stress mixed with a decrease in oral hygiene patterns have certainly exhibited increased inflammation in gingival tissues.”
Ongoing studies and research into the systemic links between periodontal disease and overall health is without question one of the subjects of greatest interest within dentistry and one that connects this field with medicine. Daily, new ideas and findings shine light on ways dental professionals can positively impact the lives of their patients.
Vicki Cheeseman is an associate editor in PennWell’s Dental Division. She edits for DentistryIQ.com, Surgical-Restorative Resource, Dental Economics, DE’s ENDO File, Bracing for Success, and RDH. Follow her on Twitter @vlcheeseman or contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.